The Scotland head coach flew to Rome with his squad yesterday after making just one change to the team that lost 27-23 to Wales on its last outing. With Sean Maitland still injured, fit-again Tim Visser comes in on the wing and Sean Lamont drops on to a reshuffled bench.
The Glasgow pair of flanker Ryan Wilson, who was omitted from the original Six Nations training squad, and centre Peter Horne, who has recovered from a foot injury, are also included among the replacements. Young Edinburgh loosehead Rory Sutherland could earn a first cap off the bench, while Exeter prop Moray Low is back in the squad for the first time since the summer tour of 2014.
“Look the win is going to come,” said Cotter, whose side are looking to break a nine-game losing streak in the competition. “This team will win a game and the focus is on the this game and being totally concentrated on it, being fully committed during this 80 minutes and not be worried by anything else.”
The Kiwi continued: “There’s positive pressure in this game because we’ve done things better from the previous week if you look at the Wales game from the English game.
“We’re looking at improving again this week and we know we are playing a top side and we’d like to lift the performance and then if we can do that we’ve got another two games in this competition. The Six Nations doesn’t finish after this 80 minutes.”
On the decision to pick former Edinburgh wing Visser, who missed the start of the Six Nations with a hamstring injury and last featured for Scotland against South Africa in the World Cup pool stage, Cotter explained: “Tim played well at the start of the season with Harlequins. He’s a finisher and that’s what we’re hoping he’s going to bring on Saturday. Hopefully it’ll be a dry track and he can get his hands on the ball and create line breaks and score points.”
Josh Strauss produced a man-of-the-match performance for Glasgow against Munster last Friday but Cotter has opted for Wilson as back-row cover on the bench instead.
“Josh has come back from head knocks and we feel another game will benefit him in his overall game,” said Cotter. “Ryan’s been playing well. He impressed us in his last outing for Glasgow with his work rate, his defensive roles and his lineout.
“We feel that lineout will be important in this game, both in attack and defence and, of the two, Ryan probably gives us the better cover with regards to that and he covers all three positions. He can take an openside role and keep speed in the game if we need to.”
Italy have suffered a setback with the loss of their promising-looking new stand-off Carlo Canna with a muscle injury and he is replaced by 17 stone New Zealand-born Kelly Haimona, who played in their 22-19 win at BT Murrayfield 12 months ago.
On tomorrow’s opponents, Cotter said: “I think they will always use their strengths. Their strengths have been a big pack of forwards. Scrums to a lesser extent but lineouts and lineout drives they have been good there.
“They’ve got variety in their attack. I imagine they’ll come at us fairly directly.
“We expect it to be ferocious. They are big physical players and they should have beaten France. I thought they had England in all sorts of trouble for a while.”
A good deal of Scotland’s meetings with Italy have gone down to the wire, with the two most recent Six Nations games being snatched by the visiting team at the death.
Cotter is prepared for tomorrow’s match to follow that pattern and said: “There is going to be a scenario played out in this game and we are anticipating it coming down to that [late decider] as it was in Turin, a few points and a couple of plays at the end of the game.
“We will remain resolute in defence and back ourselves in attack. We have done some good things and we have to make sure we repeat those.”
Cotter’s personal Six Nations record reads played seven, lost seven and the coach was asked if he considered tomorrow as the most important game of his career.
“It’s never been about me,” he replied. “I look at it as a challenge, as every game is.
“I chose to be here and I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge. So we’ll just get down to it and get through the 80 minutes on Saturday.”